From Mothers-in-Law to Stolen Trucks: Funny Reference Checking Stories

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno share a laugh (Tim Hipps/IMCOM Public Affairs)

Generally speaking, checking the references of candidates for employment is serious business. However, there are occasions when references make such funny comments that it's almost too difficult to continue the interview without being overcome by mirth. These stories have been contributed by several of my associates.

Keeping It in the Family

One reference turned out to be the candidate's mother-in-law. When asked about his employability, she said, "I wouldn't hire him to do anything!" The candidate obviously thought he could pawn off a relative as a work-related reference who would say good things about him -- whoops.

After completing an interview with a former supervisor, the following comment was volunteered: "I would recommend him for any position he applies for, and the fact that he's paying me to say that doesn't have anything to do with it."

Don't Quit Your Day Job

Not long ago, an associate interviewed a candidate's former supervisor, who described the candidate as a good worker and very capable, except on Mondays when he frequently came to work very tired. When asked why, the former supervisor said the candidate wrestled bears on the weekends, and it wore him out.

The Thief

The owner of a construction company that a candidate had listed as a reference was asked about job performance. He rated the candidate's overall performance as better than any other crew members. He couldn't think of any weaknesses in his former employee's performance or, for that matter, any areas that needed improvement. He also said the individual left the company on his own accord and was not fired. When asked, however, whether he would hire this person again, he replied, "No. In fact, the sheriff is still looking for him. He stole my truck when he left. Say, you folks wouldn't happen to know where he is right now, would you?"

Why Would You Hire Him Again?

One of my firm's most senior associates was checking a candidate's references for an engineering position. Throughout the interview, the reference gave short, one- or two-word answers -- frequently a red flag. Finally, the reference checker asked, "Would you hire this person again?"

"Sure, as a librarian," replied the reference. The associate thought he was kidding and laughed. The reference added, "I mean it. If your client hires this guy, he needs to be put in a building by himself. He couldn't get along with anybody." After that, whenever a reference answers the question, "Would you hire this person again?" affirmatively, we now ask, "For what type of position?"

A Degree of Forgery

Perhaps one of the most amusing stories was the time we were asked to verify a candidate's academic credentials. He claimed to have earned a degree from a college in Wales and even provided a copy of the diploma. Unable to confirm the degree any other way, we finally sent the copy of the diploma to the college. About two weeks later, we received a very nice letter from the school's registrar. It read, "First of all, if this had been a diploma from our university, it would have been written in Latin, not in English. We hope your client will take an equally dim view of this sort of prevarication." Of course, the amusement didn't extend to the person who had lied about the degree; he was terminated.

Reference checking is a serious business, because it can have a profound impact on the employee selection process. But there are moments, as in any profession, when humorous things happen. And if nothing else, when they occur, they provide an amusing break from the routine of evaluating candidates' job performance.

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